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Demonstrator dies in police custody

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One of the 19 people who were arrested in Karonga District during last week’s demonstrations for allegedly causing violence has died while in police custody.

The suspects were brought to Mzuzu from Karonga for a hearing of their case which they pleaded not guilty to and applied for bail. The court is yet to make a determination on the bail application.

Mother to the deceased, Gertrude Tembo, said it was not clear as to when his son, 29-year-old Justin Phiri, died as the police were concealing information on circumstances leading to the death.

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“When I asked my son, he told me that he was beaten up by soldiers. He told me that he had severe cuts on his back and on his hand and I saw the wounds,” she said about the second born in a family of five.

The mother said Phiri was a breadwinner for their family as his father died years ago. Phiri was a carpenter.

“When I visited him, he complained of backaches. He was forced to stand. My son was tortured. And yesterday [Tuesday], I insisted that he should go to the hospital because his condition was getting worse but he was denied that chance,” she said while in tears.

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She said reports indicate that Phiri died at 7pm on Tuesday but the family learnt about the development on Wednesday afternoon.

Lawyer for the family, Bracious Kondowe, said the family was opting for an independent postmortem to what caused Phiri’s death.

“Frankly speaking, they were not told about what happened and when he died. They are not comfortable to have a postmortem proposed by the police. They [family] want an independent postmortem to reveal what happened. So, apparently the police postmortem has been put on hold,” he said.

HRDC Northern Region Coordinator, Happy Mhango, said they had committed a lawyer to work hand-in-hand with the family counsel.

Police was non-committal when asked to comment on the matter.

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